Friday, January 15, 2010

Ready for the Defense by Mike Langan

TITLE: Ready for the Defense
AUTHOR: Mike Langan
PUBLISHER: Treble Heart Books
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 77k)
GENRE: Mystery suspense
COST: $5.50

Hank Fisher became a lawyer when he realized he needed more than teaching high school English, but he’s still getting his feet wet in white collar criminal defense when his mentor and business partner gets them involved defending a senator in an impending tax investigation. Suddenly, somebody’s dead, somebody else is in a coma, and Hank is scrambling to find out why, learn how a new biowarfare virus on the other side of the planet is connected, and most importantly, stay alive…

While I don’t review much for this blog, the genre I read most in print is suspense/mystery. I love following the minutiae of puzzles to solve, and even more, exploring milieus I might not normally. I haven’t found as many small e-presses that offer stories to satisfy this need as I’d like, but Ready for the Defense is a strong entry into the genre.

Told in 1st person from Hank’s POV, the reader learns right away that Hank is very much an everyman kind of figure. He’s floating along in search of an identity, no long-term relationships, still a student in many ways though he’s graduated from law school and is now practicing in Washington D.C. His boss and mentor is a larger than life figure, one of the best examples of the author’s sharp characterizations. Though he’s only in the book in the beginning, Mac is so vivid, all of Hank’s motivations not only make complete and utter sense, I was right there with him, pushing him just as hard because I wanted the answers for Mac, too. Langan achieves this with a careful balance between realistic dialogue and tense action, never letting the energy flag while still keeping a forward momentum with the mystery.

The plot itself is straight out the headlines. Senator Victoria Serling has retained Mac to help her with what looks to be a tax code violation, but turns out to be something more. The cops think the case against the Senator has something to do with a terrorist attack in Asia, but there’s the whole angle of a mysterious campaign donation from what looks to be a terrorist group, malfeasance on the part of biopharm companies, and somebody determined to keep Hank from getting any closer to the truth. It clips along at a swift pace, with short chapters that inevitably end on cliffhangers, forcing the reader to turn page after page after page in a race to the end. There’s no skipping a paragraph here or a sentence there. Every detail is necessary, especially as it twists in a new direction practically with every chapter. Occasionally, it does get a little confusing, if only because some of the detail isn’t quite as clear as it could be, but it smoothes out soon enough and doesn’t detract too much from the overall enjoyment of the story.

Hank is a strong, empathetic protagonist. He’d rather investigate than practice law, something that more than one person comments on. He’s saved from being flaky by his sense of humor and dogged determination, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t experience moments of insecurity. He’s got more than one of those, but the situations demand it. They only added to his growth, and made it very easy for me to see him as the star of a series if the author wanted to go in that direction. I almost hope he does. The combination of topical suspense with skilled writing is a welcome addition to the genre.


9/10 – Fast-paced and intelligent


8/10 – The leads are crisp, though a few of the important secondary characters don’t have the same benefit


9/10 – Enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, though it did get a tad convoluted at times

Entertainment value

8/10 – I got a little lost in some of the convolutions, but the end result was worth it

World building

9/10 – The author clearly knows his milieu, with a plot straight out of the headlines



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